Open Spaces : white-nose syndrome

White-nose Syndrome in Bats: A Truly Scary Halloween Story

They’re everywhere this time of year: pumpkins carved with crooked smiles, illuminating the evening from seemingly every porch or window on your street.

While the jack-o-lantern is probably the enduring symbol of the Halloween, a close second may be the black silhouette of a flying bat.


Don’t believe me? Go ahead, do a quick Google search of images using the word “Halloween.”  I’ll wait. 

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Take a Photo Tour

If you didn't know, every region has a Flickr page with some great imagery - so does our National Digital Library (along with lots of other cool things).  Here's a quick photo tour of our regions. Enjoy!

These Mexican spotted owls, listed as threatened, rest in a canyon in Utah, in the Mountain Prairie Region. Rock walls with caves, ledges, and other areas provide protected nest and roost sites. 

Mexican Spotted OwlsPhoto Credit: Amie Smith

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Indiana: Climate Change Raises Stakes in Efforts to Conserve Endangered Indiana Bat

Two bats being held side-by-side
At right, the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), a close cousin of the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) at left, faces multiple threats from disease, habitat loss and, now, climate change. Photo: Adam Mann, Environmental Solutions and Innovations

Midwest bat populations already faced serious threats, such as the loss of habitat to development, when they were struck four years ago by a deadly disease known as white-nose syndrome. The disease is still killing bats, the endangered Indiana bat among them. How climate change will affect the situation is unclear. But just as in the case of Kentucky bats — described in a story May 11 — scientists fear climate change could add to stressors on the imperiled species. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its Indiana Bat Recovery Plan, first drafted in 1983, to acknowledge that concern.

“We know that temperature is very important to survival of our insectivorous bats that hibernate in caves, including Indiana bats,” says Lori Pruitt, lead Service biologist for the species. “During winter, only a small proportion of caves provide the right conditions for hibernating Indiana bats because these bats have very specific temperature requirements during hibernation. Surface temperature is directly related to cave temperature, so climate change will inevitably affect the suitability of hibernacula.”

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Kentucky: For Bats Imperiled by a Mystery Disease, Climate Change is One More Unknown

A brown bat being held with gloves with puffy white patches on his nose

A close-up of a bat shows the white coating of fungus on its muzzle indicative of white-nose syndrome, the disease that is decimating North America’s bat populations. How climate change will affect the virus — and the bats — is unknown. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Camera iconPhotos: White-nose syndrome photos from USFWS on Flickr

Much as water gouges Kentucky’s limestone caverns, white-nose syndrome is cutting through North America’s bat populations. The disease, associated with a fungus (Geomyces destructans) that is new to science, is decimating these nighttime insect eaters and alarming biologists.

How climate change will impact the fungus — and the bats — is unknown. A concern is that,  like other conservation challenges such as the spread of invasive and exotic species, climate change could compound the pressures on already stressed species.

First detected in New York in February 2006, white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly through the Northeast and beyond. This spring Kentucky became the 18th state to confirm the presence of the disease or the fungus. Four Canadian provinces are also affected.  So far, the disease has killed more than one million bats. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists fear some bat species may be wiped out completely.

Among other concerned observers: farmers. The agriculture industry counts on bats to eat an estimated $3.7 billion worth of crop pests.

Scientists are unsure how warmer average temperatures will affect the disease pattern. A century-long warming trend has accelerated over the last three decades.

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Last updated: June 21, 2012